Behind Chicago Community Trust's $1 million Grant to Build the Bloomingdale Trail

In spite of the towering skyscrapers and the never-ending traffic, Chicagoans love their green spaces., Residents of the Logan Square neighborhood, an area that has historically had the least amount of open space anywhere in Chicago, dreamed of seeing a little more green for many years now. An idea emerged: let's turn that abandoned railroad track into a trail system! Thanks to a recent $1 million grant from the Chicago Community Trust, work has finally begun on the Bloomingdale Trail, affectionately known as The 606. (Read Chicago Community Trust: Chicago Grants).

This 2.7 mile recreational trail is being built along the elevated, unused rail line connecting the neighborhoods of Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Bucktown, and Wicker Park. If any area of the city needs a little connecting, it's this part. These neighborhoods have become an unlikely hodgepodge of multi-generation Hispanic families and young professionals looking for affordable rent and an easy commute downtown. Over 80,000 people, including 20,000 children, live within a ten minute walk of the new trail system.

The 606 is part of a bigger scheme devised by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The liberal mayor has vowed to create 800 new parks and green spaces in the city during the next five years. That's a huge promise that many residents are skeptical about. Unless he plans to divide and conqueror a few nearby suburbs, I can't fathom where exactly he's planning to uncover this empty space.

At the Chicago Community Trust (CCT), a senior program officer, Michael Davidson, is leading the support for The 606. Davidson is the foundation’s go-to guy for environmental sustainability and urban planning development. He personally founded the Prairie State Local Government Sustainability Network and the Sustainable Communities Division of the American Planning Association, with plenty of work at Local Governments for Sustainability USA and the Great Lakes Protection Fund to back up his credentials.

CCT's $1 million grant certainly helped out, but it's not enough to get the job done. The total project has been projected to cost anywhere between $46 million and $91 million, and its expected completion date is in Fall 2014. Top executives from Boeing and Exelon showed CCT up by donating $5 million each, and the Chicago Park District scraped up another $2 million from local taxpayer funds for the cause. However, the other big philanthropic foundations (I'm looking at you, McCormick and MacArthur) in the city have remained silent.